Runners know that a strong core and hips are key to maximizing their performance. However, with the repetitive strain of running combined with the sedentary nature of most jobs – it’s no surprise that imbalances can occur, especially in the hip area. But fear not; we’ll be diving into the top hip stretches for runners that can help you overcome that pesky hip tightness and feel better.
Whether you’re a seasoned runner or just starting out, discover the benefits of stretching (and what it actually doesn’t help!) along with a variety of specific stretching demos.
Disclaimer: This post was written by JayDee Vykoukal, Doctor of Physical Therapy. It has been reviewed by Chrissy Carroll, MPH, USAT Level I Triathlon Coach, RRCA Running Coach. This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Please consult a physician for any medical concerns.
Benefits of Hip Stretches
The hips are essential for running, as they help to move the legs forward and back. They also act as connectors between the lower body, core, and upper body. When strong and flexible, they provide stability and power during a run.
Unfortunately, tight hips are common among runners, which can lead to pain in the hips, hamstrings, knees, and beyond.
Incorporating hip stretches into your routine may help reduce tightness while increasing joint range of motion. If hip tightness is contributing to running form abnormalities, stretching could theoretically help with that.
Perhaps most importantly, stretching can subjectively feel great after a workout!
Interestingly, though, research suggests stretching may not objectively help with delayed onset muscle soreness or injury prevention. Strength training is a much better option if you’re hoping to prevent injuries.
Deciding Which Stretches Are Best for You
Not all stretching is created equal, and no two runners will need the exact same stretching (or strengthening, for that matter) program. Keep these factors in mind:
- When you’re warming up your body for a run (or other workouts), focus on dynamic movement – not static stretching. This can include continuous low-grade motion that gradually warms up the joints and muscles for a bigger range of motion and effort. Examples of this include leg swings, inchworms, and lunge walks.
- Static stretching can be beneficial after a workout (runners report it often feels great if you’re “feeling stiff”), or if you’re doing a yoga session for recovery days. This type of stretching is done by holding the stretch for a certain period of time (30 or more seconds).
- If you’re relatively flexible and don’t suffer from chronic stiffness, you may find you only need to stretch whenever you want that subjective feeling of releasing tightness. This is typically after a hard cross-training workout or run.
- If you have particular problem areas, such as the hamstrings or hip flexors, you can choose targeted stretches that help provide relief.
Ultimately, your stretching routine should feel personalized and help you feel your best on a daily basis as a runner.
Major Muscles Groups of the Hips That Need Some Attention
There are a handful of muscle groups that are near or part of the hip joint that may benefit from regular stretching (depending on your flexibility and workout routine). These include:
- Hip flexors: Located at the front of your hip, these muscles flex (bend) the hip forward- as you do each time you bring your legs forward with running or walking.
- Hip adductors: The group of muscles on the inside of the hips, often referred to as the groin muscles, that help move the legs inward.
- Hip extensors: Located at the back of your hip, these muscles help with extending (bringing the thigh behind the body) the hip.
- Hip abductors: This group is made up of muscles on the side of the hips that help move them away from each other (outward) and support the pelvis during single-leg activities.
- Hip rotators: Located deep within the hip joint, these muscles help rotate (turn) the thigh outward or inward and are important for stabilizing the hip.
These muscle groups work together to move the hip and functionally stabilize the pelvis and spin with daily activities. Interestingly, many muscles of the hip do double duty. For example, the gluteus medius plays a role in hip extension, abduction, and rotation. Plus, some muscles like the hamstrings and quads also have a key role at the knee, making their function slightly more complicated.
10 Hip Stretches for Runners
This section will focus on a couple of stretches for each major muscle group in the hips and legs, including the hamstrings, hip flexors, and glutes.
1. Hip Flexor Stretch: Crescent Lunge
When stretching the hip flexors, a lunge position on your knees is the easiest place to start.
- Kneeling on the ground, place one foot in front of you (the leg on the floor will be the leg you’re stretching)
- With your spine and upper body upright (no forward leaning), bent the front knee as you shift your weight forward and extend the other hip. Be mindful of your low back and avoid arching it
- Continue shifting forward until you feel a stretch across the front of the hip, and hold for 30+ seconds
- Repeat for 2 to 3 sets on each side
If you want to try a variation of the crescent lung, you can also try a low lunge. With this version, your back knee is now off the ground in a full lunge. The same general rules apply as above.
2. Hip Flexor Stretch: Edge of Bed/Bench Stretch
This stretch is an excellent way to get deep into the front of the hip. Plus, it’s easier to prevent overarching of the low back.
- Lie on the edge of a firm bed or workout bench with the hip you want to stretch on the outside edge
- Now, bring your inside leg up toward your chest and hug it into your belly
- Once your inner leg is secure, leg your outer leg starts to “fall” off the edge of the bed
- Let your leg extend and “dangle” toward the floor, settling into a comfortable and deep stretch across the front of the hip
- Make sure your back stays flat and your body relaxed
- If you’re having trouble relaxing, you can place a small block or books under your foot to support your leg
- Breathe and hold for 30+ seconds for 2 to 3 sets on each leg
3. Hip Flexor: Camel Pose
This stretch is a great yoga pose for stretching both hip flexors simultaneously. It’s also great for a general focus on opening the front of the body after spending a lot of time sitting.
- Begin in a kneeling position with the tops of your feet touching the floor
- Now, tighten your abs to prevent overarching the back as you start to create a gentle “C” curve with your entire spine
- You can either grab your heels with straight arms or place your hands on your lower back
- If you don’t feel the stretch in your hips, ensure your abs are tight and focus on extending the hips to the low back
- Breathe and hold for 60+ seconds for two to three sets as needed.
4. Combo: Standing Quad Stretch
A classic standing quad stretch can turn into a front hip opener and IT band stretch with slight variations.
- First, stand near a wall, chair, or counter for balance assistance (if needed)
- Then, bend the knee of the leg you want to stretch and grab your foot with the same hand
- Bend your knee further as you bring your foot toward your butt
- Stop when you feel a nice stretch in the front of the thigh
- Stay relaxed and hold for 30+ seconds for 2 to 3 sets
- Make sure you keep the abs tight to avoid arching the low back; this allows you to feel a deep stretching of all of the hip flexors better.
- To stretch the IT band simultaneously: Bring the leg you’re stretching inward, touching the inner thighs together if possible. Stop when you feel a stretch on the outside of the hip.
If you’re having trouble with your balance or don’t want to stand, you can also try this stretching in side-lying, with the leg you’re stretching on top. This will allow for a deeper IT band stretch, too.
5. Combo: Pigeon Pose with a Knee Bend
The pigeon pose is a great stretch for the glutes. But when appropriately combined, it can also stretch the opposite hip flexor at the same time.
- Start in a tabletop position on your hands and knees
- Then, shift your weight forward as you bring one leg under you with the knee bent and shin perpendicular to your body (if flexibility allows)
- You should feel a strong stretch in the glutes of the leg that’s forward
- For the leg stretched behind you, you may already feel a nice stretch in the front of the hip. If not, you can deepen the stretch by bending your back knee and grabbing the heel (for the flexible folks)
- Hold this nice combo for 30+ seconds for 2 to 3 sets on each leg
6. Glutes: Figure 4
Figure 4 is a classic stretch for sore glutes. It can be done sitting, standing, or lying down. Let’s review the sitting version here.
- Sit in a chair with your posture upright
- Bring the foot of the hip you want to stretch up and place it on the opposite knee
- Now, grab your ankle or shin and start to press your knee away from your body until you feel a stretch in the glute
- You can also bring your chest forward (hinging at the hips, not the low back) to get a deeper stretch
- Hold for 30+ seconds for 2 to 3 sets on each leg
For more variations and other glute stretches, see the full glute stretching guide for runners.
7. Inner Thighs: Butterfly Pose
The butterfly pose is a great way to stretch the inner thighs and open up the hips.
- Begin seated on the floor
- Bring the bottoms of your feet together with your knees bent
- Let your knees fall outward as you bring your heels closer to your body
- Find a position that is comfortable for your legs and feels good on the inner thighs
- To deepen the stretch, you can lean your body forward or press your knees gently down toward the ground
- Then, hold for 60+ seconds for a few sets
8. Inner Thighs: Garland Pose
The garland pose is a great stretch for the inner thighs and will feel great as a hip opener.
- Begin by standing with your feet about hip-width apart
- Squat down low with your butt near the ground and your knees splayed out, making sure you keep your spine upright
- Depending on your flexibility, your feet may be able to rest on the ground. Otherwise, you might be on your toes (like me)
- Bring your arms inside your thighs and bring the palms of your hands together
- Use your forearms to push the legs further apart
- Breathe, relax, and hold for 60+ seconds
9. Combo: Wide Leg Forward Fold
Stretch the inside and back of the legs at once with this combo move.
- Stand with your feet well outside hip width
- Keep your spine flat as you hinge forward at the hips to feel a stretch of the inner thighs and hamstrings
- Touch the floor or place your hands comfortably on your legs
- You can play with the width of your feet for maximal stretching potential
- Hold for 60+ seconds for 2 to 3 sets
10. Supine Hamstring Stretch
This move stretches the backs of your legs and is great for runners.
- Lie on your back with a strap or belt around your foot (you can also use your hands if flexibility allows) and knee straight
- Bring the foot up towards the ceiling until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg
- Hold for 30+ seconds for 2 to 3 sets on each leg
Other Hip Stretching Tips
Here are some additional tips for stretching and releasing tight muscles. These are particularly great if you struggle with stiffness, muscle knots, and other muscle pain that you need to address proactively.
- Use a foam roller. If you’re dealing with chronic stiffness and pain, a foam roller is a great way to release trouble areas. Read the full guide on foam rolling for runners. (In fact, there seems to be more research on the benefits of foam rolling for runners compared to stretching.)
- Don’t forget to strengthen. A common cause of hip tightness is related to muscle imbalances. A well-designed hip-strengthening program is important (this can include options from our glute exercises guide, as well as our guide on resistance band exercises for runners).
- Pay attention to your running form. Running with an upright posture, relaxed shoulders and head, and a tall spine can help reduce hip tightness.
- Ask for help. Talk to a physical therapist if you’re dealing with chronic issues or want to avoid them. They can help identify the cause of your hip tightness and develop a plan to address it. When in doubt, always ask for professional help. This will help keep you running and avoid unnecessary injuries.
The Bottom Line
As a runner, stretching your hips after a workout can feel great, and may help those with super-tight muscles gradually increase range of motion (which could help with form in those cases). Remember, strength training is a better option for injury prevention and overall form improvements though – so be sure to incorporate that into your routine regularly too!
Feel free to pin this post to save for later!